A Look Inside: Water Safety

Published: May. 25, 2023 at 4:19 AM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - May is National Water Safety Month, a time to raise awareness and highlight the importance of public education regarding safer practices for kids and adults when they are in and around water of all kinds.

“The rivers are often flowing faster and stronger than people realize so we really need to respect the power of the water.”

Respecting the power of water, it sounds easy enough. The month of May and Memorial Day weekend mark the unofficial start of swimming season. Beaches, pools, water parks are opening and people begin to spend more time outdoors. Eau Claire Fire & Rescue Deputy Chief Allyn Bertrang says chilly water temperatures pose a major safety threat early in the season.

“Even in warm weather people can become hypothermic in cold water for too long but again it’s all about prevention, you need to understand and respect the water you’re going to be in and understand the safety measures you can take so we always recommend that people wear a life jacket,” says Bertrang.

Firefighters Steven Patten, Jordan Watson and Michael Haller train for water emergencies. Watson says training makes them more calm in crisis situations.

“Calmness breeds calmness. If we can show that we’re calm, and help calm the victim down, we have different things we can talk to the victim with, the more things we can tell the victim of patient, we can calm them, it’s going to make the situation a lot more better and safer for everyone,” explains Watson.

According to Stop Drowning Now, no one is drown proof and drowning doesn’t discriminate. It’s the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide. In the U.S. an average of 3,500 to 4,000 people drown each year. Avoiding trouble spots is key. Bertrang says one of the most problematic areas in recent years is on the Eau Claire River.

“Where people put in at River Prairie in Altoona whether it’s a kayak or tube and the water is very calm there and it looks like it will be very easy, but by the time they reach downtown Eau Claire, the water becomes faster and much more turbulent,” says Bertraing. “And there are also places that people can get hung up in the strainers alongside the river in that area, so we’ve run into that problem a lot.”

Bertrang offers this tip if someone gets separated from their tube, boat or kayak.

“If you into a problem on the river and you need to get to safety, just remember the power of that river, it’s going to be flowing. So use that to your advantage. If you can float on your back with your feet out in front of you so you don’t hit something with our head instead of your feet, keep yourself afloat and swim downstream at an angle towards the shore, the river will actually help guide you towards the shore.”

In a rescue situation, Fire & Rescue uses the reach, throw, row, go technique.

“So if we know where they’re at, we start with the reach method, we can take our pipe poles, certain tools off our rigs and reach to them and hopefully they can grab them and pull them back,” says Lt. Steven Patten. “If they are further out, then we can throw something out to them, so we have throw bags that go 200-300 feet that we chuck to them and hopefully then can grab them and wrap themselves in it and we can pull them back that way. And then we have our boats, row out and get them and the go method which we tend to use more often than the other ones, just faster and more efficient, is we just go them.”

Staying vigilant is the primary message from Eau Claire Fire & Rescue. People can do just that by making good choices in keeping themselves safe.